(An original piece for Adventure Cycling Association, July 3, 2012)

Today’s guest post was written by Martina Brimmer, owner of Swift Industries, to announce the 2nd annual Tough & Tender: A literary and photographic project celebrating women’s experiences with the bicycle.

This year I broke a bicycle frame.

As I stripped the parts off the bike, I nostalgically calculated that I had pedaled well over 15,000 miles on that frame in the past four years. I’ve cycled coastlines and mountain roads, toured islands and farmland, and ridden the same mundane commuter routes day in and day out. I’ve pedaled alone and in company. What I found myself marveling at, as the bicycle was stripped for parts, was not the strength of the lugs that had endured for so long, but my own strength.

I have ridden the rough equivalent of crossing the United States four or five times over the past few years. Those 16,000 miles contained breathtaking scenery and killer climbs. They were marked with more tears than I’d like to admit, and a great deal of ‘hanger’ (hunger anger). Sometimes it felt like there were more relentless headwinds than encouraging tailwinds.

Just like any other enthusiast, I couldn’t wait for my next long day out, and was stoked that I could lure my riding buddies into bike camping. I stopped at breweries, I repaired my own flats with confidence and dexterity, and afterward, I wiped the grease off my hands and onto my pants. Over the past four years I have dedicated my career to bicycling and touring. It is through my experiences on a bicycle that I have grown into myself.

I am a cyclist. But what’s more, I am a female cyclist. And as many female cyclists know, our stories are not celebrated enough in mainstream culture and are not always told with as much joy and pride as they ought to be.

I don’t find myself reflected in most cycling publications. I don’t walk into a shop and receive the same treatment as my fellow cyclists, nor do my female friends who work as mechanics enjoy the same trust from customers as their male co-workers do. Sometimes I don’t only feel underrepresented, I feel invisible in the very community that I love.

But at the end of the day the joy and accomplishment of cycling is nested just as deeply in my heart, thighs, and calves as anyone else’s and I rejoice when I take to the open road. Because that’s what it’s all about.

I know from years of riding with my closest friends that my experiences as a female rider are not any kind of universal voice for women who ride bicycles. Our styles, and interest, paces, and experiences are many and diverse. Over the years it has been of particular inspiration to me to exchange stories and connect with female bicyclists. I am always inspired by the tenderness that women assume when they’re relaying an adventure, or better yet, a misadventure, from the road.

In 2011, Tough & Tender was born. Now in its second year, Tough & Tender is a literary and photographic project that celebrates women’s relationships with bicycles, touring, and the bike industry. Cycling empowers, inspires and challenges women in ways which are not often portrayed by mainstream bicycle culture. This project aims to fill that role. Please tell us how you experience strength, determination, joy, and satisfaction through bicycling and join this compendium of women’s voices and perspectives in the making.

We can’t wait to share your stories!

For more information about contributing to Tough & Tender 2012, visitSwift Industries or check out their blog, Cycle Swift

Photos by Russ Roca

MARTINA BRIMMER is the owner of Swift Industries, a small pannier company is Seattle WA. She rides a lot, sews a lot, camps a lot, and eats a lot. Choose your own adventures.